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Delusions Of Gender [Paperback]

Cordelia Fine
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 9 2011
It s the twenty-first century, and although we tried to rear unisex children boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks we failed. Even though the glass ceiling is cracked, most women stay comfortably beneath it. And everywhere we hear about vitally important hardwired differences between male and female brains. The neuroscience that we read about in magazines, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes even scientific journals increasingly tells a tale of two brains, and the result is more often than not a validation of the status quo. Women, it seems, are just too intuitive for math; men too focused for housework. Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men s and women s brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men s brains aren t wired for empathy and women s brains aren t made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men s and women s behavior. Instead of a male brain and a female brain, Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender. Passionately argued and unfailingly astute, Delusions of Gender provides us with a much-needed corrective to the belief that men s and women s brains are intrinsically different a belief that, as Fine shows with insight and humor, all too often works to the detriment of ourselves and our society.

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Review

Cordelia Fine has a first-rate intellect and writing talent to burn. In her new book, Delusions of Gender, she takes aim at the idea that male brains and female brains are wired differently, leading men and women to act in a manner consistent with decades-old gender stereotypes. Armed with penetrating insights, a rapier wit, and a slew of carefully researched facts, Fine lowers her visor, lifts her lance, and attacks this idea full-force. Whether her adversaries can rally their forces and mount a successful counter-attack remains to be seen. What s certain at this point, however, is that in Delusions of Gender Cordelia Fine has struck a terrific first blow against what she calls neurosexism. --William Ickes, author of Everyday Mind Reading: Understanding What Other People Think and Feel

About the Author

Cordelia Fine is a Research Associate at Macquarie University, Australia, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her previous book, A Mind of Its Own (Icon, 2006) was hugely acclaimed and she was called 'a science writer to watch' by Metro. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! Jan. 11 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Was so relieved to see all of this brought together in one place and presented with so much clarity and wit. Neurosexism is having a hey-day right now -- especially in schools. As a mother of five sons, I appreciate this book's message on a personal as well as a critical level. We all need to read this.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  80 reviews
100 of 115 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A myth-busting, incisive, mind-changing delight Aug. 28 2010
By Kristin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an excellent book. It is witty and absorbing and just about impossible to put down. It is packed with the results of a multitude of studies. It is a myth-busting, incisive, mind-changing delight. It deals with the "delusions" that many people have concerning gender differences, and how these delusions have a powerful (though often unconscious) effect on people's lives.

The central myth that the author confronts is that men and women have widely different sets of ability that are mostly innate, hard-wired, and unchangeable. The author argues that this has not been demonstrated. In fact, it is not even clear that these differences in ability exist.

Take empathy. If you test people's empathy by asking them how empathetic they think they are (and yes, some scientists actually do this), then women test much higher than men. But if you actually test their abilities (by, for instance, asking what emotions are being expressed in a particular face), women do only a tiny bit better than men. And if you design the study to get rid of gender biases (the author shows how researchers do this), then women do no better than men.

Or take the ability to mentally rotate objects in space which, for a long time, has been considered to be necessary for success in math and engineering. Usually men do better than women. But if you fib and tell a group of test-takers that "women perform better than men in this test, usually for genetic reasons," then women perform as well as the men.

And on it goes. The author shows how subtle cues in our environment affect our identities and thus our behaviors and thus our life course. And how our implicit beliefs are often diametrically opposed to our explicit beliefs and how this can wreak havoc in our societies.

There are also sections on more obvious instances of gender bias in the workplace and at home, the difficulties interpreting MRI studies, the subtle ways that parents "teach" gender to their children even while claiming (and believing) that they are being gender-neutral, the effects (or not) of pre-natal testosterone, sex differences in animal behavior (did you know that a male rat will take care of an infant rat if it's placed in it's cage?), the "seductive allure" of neuroscience, and more.

A wonderful book. I think I'm going to go and read it again. . . .
63 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The trouble with neuro- (and evolutionary) sexism Jan. 31 2011
By Massimo Pigliucci - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Below is an excerpt from a forthcoming review in Skeptical Inquirer. I am a philosopher of science and former evolutionary biologist, and I highly recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in the biology and social science of gender.

It is nowadays commonly accepted knowledge that there are profound innate differences between genders. I'm not talking about the obvious anatomical ones, but about the allegedly (radically) different ways in which male and female brains work. It seems that at every corner we hear statements to the effect that gender XX or XY is better or more capable or more attracted to a litany of tasks and behaviors, from spatial abilities to mathematics, from aptitude toward science to liking the color pink. When prominent figures -- like former Harvard President Larry Summers -- get in trouble for talking about behavioral gender differences as if they were established facts backed by the power of evolutionary and neuro-biology, a chorus of defenders rises up to decry political correctness and to present the Summers of the day as a valiant fighter for rationality in the face of relativism and demagoguery.

Not so fast, says Cordelia Fine in her Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. Fine is an academic psychologist and freelance writer, and her book ought to be kept side by side with the likes of the (antithetical) The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, to provide a bit of balance to what has become common and yet largely unfounded knowledge about gender differences. Let us be clear at the outset that nobody is seriously suggesting that genetics and evolution have nothing to do with human behavior, including gendered differences. Rather, Fine's claim is that a lot is being taken for established these days on the basis of much too flimsy evidence -- and more importantly that the widening consensus among scientists and the general public about the innateness (and consequent inevitability) of gender differences has a measurable and pernicious effect on women.

Nature and nurture surely interact in complex ways, particularly in an animal so behaviorally flexible as a human being. But the danger of "neurosexism" (and evolutionary sexism) is that public pronouncements by scientists far outpace the evidence, with the result of reinforcing stereotypes and negatively affecting millions of lives. Scientists have an ethical duty, as Wittgenstein put it in another context, to remember that whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
62 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning amount of research Aug. 27 2010
By Rich Clayton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
found this book stunning. All around you see all this stuff about 'Men's brains' and 'Women's brains', and it always struck me as odd that a sex that has, for example, written so much brilliant literature should be deemed semi-autistic, etc etc. So here comes this brilliantly researched book (just take a look at the pages and pages of notes at the end - this author knows her onions backwards and forwards and sideways) - and she points out how shoddy it all is.
And she's funny!
No one will ever again have to sit through a dinner party with some parent going on about how 'I thought that too, but you only have to LOOK at my two children to see there are innate differences... bleh bleh'. She unpicks it all and shows how social pressures are so important and the brain differences that are so often claimed are, essentially, neurotosh, aka neurosexism. I think I shall carry a copy round with me.
81 of 100 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, insightful, and flawed Dec 11 2010
By TeenageLunatic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Delusions of Gender focuses in particular on the brain and media coverage, whereas Brainstorm is a synthetic evaluation of the theory that prenatal exposure to hormones has a long lasting impact in organizing the mind. The former is also much more geared towards the general public. Although both focus a great deal on methodology, Brain Storm is actually focused on the question of the etiology of gender differences, whereas the message of Delusions of Gender is focused on flaws in interpretation and use of neuroscience research.
While I admire Fine's questions, I think she makes some researchers and conclusions out to be more unreasonable than they actually are. She points out that researchers often make much of small studies and highlights two claims that originated in studies with a limited number of participants: the idea that males are more lateralized for language than females and that they have larger corpus callosums. Fine contends that when meta-analyses are done, it becomes apparent that this is not the case. It's not that clear cut. Daniel Voyer conducted a meta-analysis and concluded that there are sex differences in lateralization (Voyer, 1996). Similarly, the corpus callosum claims often depend on how the measurement is done. It's important to take into account study quality as well ( Holloway 1998). She downplays the ambiguity on these questions. Also, even Hyde's Gender Similarities Hypothesis documented sex differences in some language-related skills(Hyde, 2005). Girls outperform boys on standardized reading and writing tests (Program for International Literacy 2006, US Department of Education 1997). Moreover, Fine's discussion of the mental rotation and math relationship does not note some compelling findings that might alter a reader's impression. For example, Casey and colleagues found that spatial abilities mediated the gender gap on the SAT-M (e.g. Casey et. al 1995, Tartre 1990). She cites Ceci et. al 2009 for a statement of dispute, but doesn't go into detail about the issues they raised. They don't think the research showing SAT-M scores and mental rotation are flawed, per se. That said, Fine raises some legitimate issues about how the scientific community and press responded to some papers, especially in light of subsequent findings and controversy.

Although one can easily beg to differ with some of Fine's takes on the data, many of the questions she poses are important and worthwhile. Much of the book features Fine explaining this technology and its limitations. She spends a lot of time indicting particular studies, illuminating how ambiguous some data is, and how it gets wildly interpreted. She emphasizes how challenging it is to interpret what's really going on in the mind. One need not agree with Fine's take on certain controversial issues on the topic to see her point about popular writers gone wild. She also rightly stresses that people tend to be particularly impressed with this research (Weisberg et. al 2008). Fine's text is well-suited to instilling skepticism into readers and enabling them to look critically at the claims they might encounter in press reports. This is especially valuable because press reports typically mention methodological details, but don't cover some of the limitations in procedures.
The downside, though, as Diane Halpern notes is it not as helpful to distinguishing between cautiously executed studies with reasonable conclusions. Note also, such investigations do exist. (e.g. Allen et. al 2003; Koscik et. al 2009; Hanggi et. al 2010). Researchers who care about these sorts of issues, exist too. Consider Tor Wager who conducted a meta-analysis of 60+ brain imaging studies, and noted he was speculating in his discussion of them. Wager and one of his colleagues also opened a discussion of sex differences in the emotional brain by pointing out Aristotle's views on women's inferiority, and ended by emphasizing sex similarities. I suppose there are still limitations in the research, and some of this could be misconstrued. It's not a researcher getting overly excited about a single spurious finding that conforms to stereotypes.
Genes, hormones, and their impact on brain structure and function contribute to making the lives of men and women different (Hines, 2005). Yet, the awe that some neuroimaging studies inspire may not always be conducive to understanding how. New York Times editor wrote that Fine's book helped her "see how complex and fascinating the whole issue is." I do worry that this comes at the expense of dismissing legitimate scholarship.
Ultimately, Fine posits that some of this research will wind up in the sorry scrap heap of the past. That's not beyond the scope of possibility. Maybe in retrospect, we will see some bias, some flaws and gaps. But it won't just be a bunch of over-eager researchers to

References
Allen JS, Damasio H, Grabowski TJ, Bruss J, Zhang W. Sexual dimorphism and asymmetries in the gray-white composition of the human cerebrum. Neuroimage 2003;18:880-894.
Casey, M. B., Nuttall, R., Pezaris, E., & Benbow, C. P. (1995). The influence of spatial ability on gender differences in math college entrance test scores across diverse samples. Developmental Psychology, 31, 697-705.
Ceci, S.J., Williams, W.M., & Barnett, S.M. (2009, March). Women's underrepresentation in science: Sociocultural and biological considerations. Psychological Bulletin.
Fitch, RH., & Denenberg, VH. 1998. A role for ovarian hormones in sexual differentiation of the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 311-352.
Hänggi, J., Buchmann, A., Mondadori, C. R. A., Henke, K.,
Jäncke, L., & Hock, C. (2008). Sexual dimorphism in
the parietal substrate associated with visuospatial cognition
independent of general intelligence. Journal of Cognitive
Neuroscience, 22, 139-155.
Hines, M. (2004). Brain gender. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 581-592.
Koscik, T., O'Leary, D., Moser, D. J., Andreasen, N. C., & Nopoulos, P. (2009). Sex differences in
parietal lobe morphology: Relationship to mental rotation performance. Brain and
Cognition, 69(3), 451-459.
Program for International Literary Report, pp. 63-64. Accessed November 9th 2009
[...]
U. S. Department of Education. (1997). National Assessment of Educational Progress (Indicator
32: Writing proficiency: Prepared by the Educational Testing Service). Washington, DC.
(World Wide Web: [...])
Voyer, D. (1996). On the magnitude of laterality effects and sex differences in functional lateralities. Laterality, 1, 51-83.
Wager, T. D., Phan, K. L., Liberzon, I., & Taylor, S. F. (2003) Valence, gender, and lateralization of functional brain anatomy in emotion: A meta-analysis of findings from neuroimaging. Neuroimage, 19, 513-531.
Wager, T. D. & Ochsner, K. N. (2005). Sex differences in the emotional brain. Neuroreport, 16(2), 85-87.
38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Drawer Reading! Sept. 22 2010
By an academic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is exceedingly rare to find such a gem of a book. The book is academically serious, but it is written with such flair and panache -- and clarity and concision -- that you don't have to be a brainiac to understand the Fine points made within.

What Fine does in this book is 1) survey some of the best known literature concluding that there are biological or innate gender differences 2) expose very real problems in methodology and reasoning in this literature 3) and uncover some of the little-known work that does not suffer from such appalling errors which casts doubt on the claim that there are biological or innate gender differences. Fine is extremely careful about how she states her conclusions; she's no messianic fanatic who declares that there are no such innate differences. She is too smart to think that the data out there give us a firm answer either way. What she shows, brilliantly, is that those who pretend that there is such definitive evidence are guilty of a rush to judgment.

Fine is a serious academic who has done the public a great service by making clear to ordinary people how shibboleths about gender difference that permeate our culture do not have firm grounding in the neuroscientific studies on which they often draw. At the same time, she does the academy a great service; gender studies in neuroscience needs to up its game.

And while she is accomplishing all this, you, the reader, will be laughing, gasping, smirking, grinning, and just plain enjoying the fun way she presents her material. Kudos to such a young talent! This is going on my holiday gift list!
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